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Hall County group to visit Clayton dual-language school

POSTED: March 24, 2008 5:00 a.m.
ROBIN MICHENER NATHAN/The Times

Students at Unidos Dual Language Charter School in Forest Park walk by a dual language billboard in the schools' hallway in November.

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GAINESVILLE — About 25 parents, teachers and Hall County school system administrators plan to spend Friday at the state’s first public charter school to offer students instruction of state-mandated curriculum in two languages.

The visit to Unidos Dual Language Charter School in Forest Park is geared to help the Hall group prepare for the opening of the World Languages Academy in the fall, said Carrie Woodcock, dual-language coordinator for the new school.

Hall’s school will feature a "dual-language immersion" program offering instruction in English and Spanish for students in kindergarten and first grades. Higher grades will feature other foreign language instruction, such as Chinese.

The district’s plan is to add one grade level each year to the dual-languages program until the academy offers it exclusively from kindergarten through fifth grade.

The Clayton County school opened in the fall of 2006, beginning with 135 students in kindergarten and first grade. The school now has about 215 students in kindergarten through second grade.

"We wanted to ... let (the Hall delegation) see how a school like that is run, similar to the way we’ll be running our school, and ... to see how a school like that can benefit our community," Woodcock said.

The World Languages Academy will take the place of Chestnut Mountain Elementary School, which is moving to a new 900-student building off Union Church Road next school year.

Chestnut Mountain now is at 4670 Winder Highway.

All Hall County elementary students will be eligible to attend the school.

However, priority will be given to students in the Chestnut Mountain, Chicopee Woods, Friendship, Jones, Lyman Hall, Martin and Spout Springs Elementary School districts, and bus transportation will be provided to students from those schools.

Dell Perry, Unidos’ dual-language coordinator, who is scheduled to meet with the Hall group, said her school counsels parents wanting to enroll their child at the school.

"As a public school, we do not have the option of turning a child away if we have space," she said in an interview late last year.

"And so, in theory, a parent could come in and their child have no background in Spanish and put them into a classroom where all the rest of the children have had three years of content instruction in Spanish. But it really puts that child at a big disadvantage."

Perry, a former English for Speakers of Other Languages and Spanish teacher, began pursuing the charter in 2003 as a graduate student at the University of Georgia in Athens.

"I started ... learning about dual-language education ... and decided that it was something that Georgia should have," she said.

Woodcock, who has visited Unidos several times, said she is eager to see how others in the Hall group react to the school.

"We want all of them to be very well-informed," she said, "so they can see how they want their classes to run and to be able to answer questions when parents or community members ask about (the new academy)."

Tiffani Hendricks, who teaches first grade at Lyman Hall Elementary School south of Gainesville, is visiting Unidos as a parent and future Unidos language arts teacher.

"I’m excited about the opportunity for (my son) to be exposed in general to such a new culture and open up his mind to things that I never had the opportunity to do," she said.

Working at the mostly Latino Lyman Hall "is really my first exposure to a different culture," Hendricks added. "Just from working here, you develop a respect for diversity, and you can’t teach that to a child. They need to be in a setting where they’re able to do that."



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